Atlas of Unknowns

James_AtlasOfUnknownsGotham Fiction teacher Tania James has just seen the release of her novel Atlas of Unknowns. It’s the story of two sisters living far apart—one in the U.S., the other in India. Ambitious in scope, the novel moves through multiple points of view and across the world, drawing us into a family’s eccentricities and secrets.

The San Francisco Chronicle says, "Once in a while, a novel comes along that makes you wonder why people don’t read more fiction—why, given the right book, anyone would choose to do anything else. Atlas of Unknowns, the dazzling, original and deeply absorbing debut by Tania James, is this rare book."

Here is a passage:

Linno was seven years old when her mother died; Anju was three. Until then they had lived in Bombay as a family, in a flat where the suburbs were hardly less hectic than the city's center. Their mother hung an orange sheet in the doorway between the kitchen and the bedroom, where they all slept together on bedrolls and a charpoy that the last tenant had left behind. The first thing Linno saw upon waking was a luminous red cloth tacked over the window, through which she could hear the magnified echo of the muezzin's call to prayer. Once, she woke in the middle of the night and saw her mother's profile, traced in dim light by the window. Her mother was perfectly still, a cord in her throat taut enough to touch; she seemed to strain for a view that the window could not afford her. Linno assumed it had something to do with the glossy postcard that had arrived that day, the one with the Statue of Liberty on it. "What is that?" Linno had asked, but her mother slipped it into her purse without an answer. Later, when Linno studied the postcard in secret, she was not especially impressed by the massive, mannish, sea green woman planted on the ocean. What held Linno's interest was the writing on the back of the postcard, in Malayalam:

See? Their most famous statue wears a sari. You will have no problem here.
   — Bird

Where was her mother going and when? Who was this Bird? Every question led to another, none that Linno could bring herself to ask aloud. She was wounded by the woman her mother might be, and choosing not to know further, she convinced herself of the necessity for silence; such is the way that questions in the family remain unasked and unanswered for years. In time, Linno learned how to tuck all her questions away, like the fancy saris that her mother never wore, tightly folded between leaves of muslin in the bottom of a drawer.
Excerpted from Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James. Copyright © 2009 by Tania James Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Find the book online at

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